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Decapitation — Variations on a theme by Vollmann

Monday, September 24th, 2018

[ by Charles Cameron — preliminary to a rave review, i suspect, with Helena Bonham Carter as Red Queen thrown in ]
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**

There’s an old English saying, presumably about the martyred King Charles I:

The King walked and talked half an hour after his head was cut off..

Young boys, getting acquainted with rules and grammar, and somewhat literal minded as a result, find this statement a paradox, which, however, can easily be resolved by the addition of a comma or perhaps better, a semicolon:

The King walked and talked; half an hour after his head was cut off..

Older boys quickly learn the (semicolon) reason of the riddle, and eagerly apply the first version to younger boys, the better to perplex and torment them. And thus both versions, the beauty of the paradox, the ease of its resolution, and the cruelty thus made available are transmitted across the generations..

**

I have written this because the beheading of a king clearly marked my young soul, as I was yesterday reminded by three passages from an Atlantic review of Vollmann‘s latest Opus — Magnum III at least [I, II, and let us not forget, gods I would love to read this, Kissing the Mask: Beauty, Understatement and Femininity in Japanese Noh Theater]..

Summits chopped off:

  • In West Virginia, mountains do not have their summits chopped off but are granted “removal of overburden.”
  • Decapitation:

  • His insatiable appetite for detail yields both irrelevant trivia (“Embarking on the Super Limited Hitachi Express, which was also known as the Super Hitachi 23 Limited Express”) and magisterial portraits of landscapes befouled by poking and prodding and, in the case of West Virginia’s mountains, decapitating.
  • Headless:

  • Vollmann breathes a cool wind “whose degree of particulate contamination was of course unknown,” hears on a silent street at night the grunting of a radioactive wild boar, and walks on broken glass through an abandoned clothing store advertising a 50 percent–off sale and peopled by headless mannequins.
  • Headless mannequins and radioactive wild boars — vivid metaphors, no? — we the humans have been brain-dead, and in all likelihood will continue so.

    **

    We’re all too familiar with images of ISIS executioners with their orange jump-suited prisoners, just prior to and after solo and group beheadings — as a corrective to the “it’s all Islam” narrative, here’s a para from an article titled Inside the Minds of Cartel Hitmen: Hannibal Lecters for Hire (which includes an interview with Robert Bunker that I will be taking a more extended look at now my review of JM Berger‘s new book. Extremism, is in):

    And the tactics employed in all that killing have become more and more gruesome over time. Maybe the rush felt by some murderers is like a drug itself, and they are junkies needing ever greater doses to get the same high. But how is it that ordinary people get hooked on activities like beheading, acid baths, and cannibalism?

    **

    Quoth the Red Queen: Off with their heads!

    Life imitates dammit!

    Wednesday, February 28th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — imaginatively vacationing in the pleasantly Mediterranean atmosphere the of the North Pole twenty years hence ]
    .

    Oh well, once Camus said it, you know it had to move from fict to fact..

    **

    My source for the Arctic is a Wapo piece, North Pole surges above freezing in the dead of winter, stunning scientists which begins:

    The sun won’t rise at the North Pole until March 20, and it’s normally close to the coldest time of year, but an extraordinary and possibly historic thaw swelled over the tip of the planet this weekend. Analyses show that the temperature warmed to the melting point as an enormous storm pumped an intense pulse of heat through the Greenland Sea.

    Although a rosy future beckons to those of us who believe this “intense pulse of heat” is but the precursor to the Mediterranean arctic I’m imaginatively vacationing in, twenty years hence, a more sober assessment might be grim, as is the graphic accompanying this tweet from Jack Labe quoted in the WaPo piece —

    Grim.

    The grimness, of course, is simply the result of a graphical choice of colors — it could be quite cheery on a white background, in reds and oranges with cerulean blue as the highlight in the center.

    **

    And there’s the question of “global warming” implicit in all this — but for my purposes here on Zenpundit, that “invincible summer” in the midst of winter which Camus found within himself is what I’m working on. Summer in the interior life, which can indeed be found anywhere, even amidst winter.

    Ecologians, meet the US Army

    Wednesday, January 10th, 2018

    [ by Charles Cameron — with huge hat-tips to Foreign Policy and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers ]
    .

    From Foreign Policy:

    The Only Force That Can Beat Climate Change Is the U.S. Army

    America’s military is the only institution that can break the partisan deadlock on the worst threat the nation faces.

    The precise extent of human-induced climate change is unclear, but the basic science is unequivocal, as is the danger it poses to the United States. This threat comes from the direct impact of climate change on agricultural production and sea levels but equally importantly from the huge waves of migration that climate change is likely to cause, on a scale that even the world’s richest states and societies will be unable either to prevent or accommodate.

    Yet for two out of the past four U.S. administrations, action on this issue has been frozen due to the refusal of a large section of the political establishment and electorate to accept the clear scientific evidence that this threat exists — and the Trump administration has now decided to remove climate change from the list of security threats to the United States under its new National Security Strategy (NSS).

    The most urgent and important task facing climate change activists in the United States is to persuade the U.S. national security establishment of the mistakenness of this decisionThe most urgent and important task facing climate change activists in the United States is to persuade the U.S. national security establishment of the mistakenness of this decision. If no serious progress can be made under this administration, then concentrated thought must be dedicated to placing climate change at the heart of the next administration’s NSS and of U.S. security thinking in general.

    This is because the most promising avenue to convince conservative American voters and to generate genuinely serious action in the United States against climate change would be to firmly establish the link between global warming and critical issues of national security. The threat should be obvious, but even before Donald Trump took office, the security elites in the United States and other major countries had not yet really integrated it into their thinking. Thus the vast majority of reporting and analysis of security issues in the Persian Gulf relates to classical security threats: the future of the Iran nuclear deal, the geopolitical and religious rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, the Saudi-led boycott of Qatar, and so on.

    Almost unnoticed by security institutions has been a report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which states that by the last quarter of this century, climate change is likely to make it impossible for people in the Persian Gulf and South Asia to operate in the open for much of the year due to a combination of extreme heat waves and humidity. South Asia is currently home to the largest concentration of people in the world, many of them engaged in agriculture. If the MIT forecast proves true, what will future historians say about the current security preoccupations of the Gulf and South Asian governments and their Western allies?

    **

    This strikes me as one of the most important posts I’ve read, confronting often military-averse eco-thinkers with the one governmental source that has been eco-concerned at an impressively high level, see this High-level Climate Change Vulnerability Assessment

    Hm — when they say “high level” they mean something along the lines of “overview from 30,000 feet”, although they get into considerable detail as befits a military with suitable high alitude intelligence capabilities — even metaphorically speaking. OTOH, by “at an impressively high level” I mean “with strong support from an impressive group of general officers”.

    Go, Army! Go U.S. Army Corp of Engineers!

    Go, eco-warriors and ecologians!

    And you know something’s happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

    Monday, August 28th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — gulf water temperatures 2° above average fuel winds, flooding in TX ]

    Furthermore,

    **

    These frank admissions that we have gone beyond the known signal a qualitative shift in the situation.

    You don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?

    It’s altogether a hard rain falling..

    King Cnut rebukes N Carolina legislators, & Trump by extension

    Saturday, August 12th, 2017

    [ by Charles Cameron — a meditation on sea-level rise ]
    .

    A thousand years later, the lesson King Cnut sought to teach his nobles still hasn’t altogether sunk in.

    The North Carolina story is from 2012, and I haven’t been tracking to see if there have been any changes since then — but the attitude behind the gutting of the EPA under President Trump is simply “more of the same”..

    Humility is the key word in the article on King Cnut.

    **

    Sources:

  • ABC News, New Law in North Carolina Bans Latest Scientific Predictions of Sea-Level Rise
  • Wikipedia, King Canute and the waves

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